How to Make the Most of Your Doctor’s Visit
There are many useful tips that you can utilize before, during and after your appointment with the neurologist to make every minute count. Here are just a few to help maximize that often rare opportunity when you actually see your neurologist face to face for a few minutes. It usually goes like this: You’ve just told the physician’s assistant all the details of your experience over the past several months of living with Parkinson’s, the good – the bad – the ugly (to be discussed later). In pops your neurologist. “So, how are we today?” It’s more like, “How are you today?” You are so excited to actually see the doctor (this really happens) and nerves get the best of you and all you can say is: “Fine!” Even when we know we aren’t fine.
Tip #1: Always have a checklist of items and/or issues you want to address
Let’s face it, living with Parkinson’s Disease is tough. It is a complex disease associated with so many symptoms and there are so many additional drugs not including those for PD to treat those associative symptoms. Plus PD can and eventually will affect your memory. This makes it difficult to remember the last 2 weeks much less than the last 2 months. Creating a checklist or a written list of questions is a valuable tool in fighting this disease. So the next time your doctor surprises you, you can say: “Glad you asked. I have a few questions.”
Tip #2: Keep a journal
This one will keep any doctor on their toes because it requires them to actually look at it and respond. It may be cursory and a matter of fact summary but it will present to the doctor a much larger picture of how you have been doing instead of: “How are you doing today?” You can decide how often to update it but record off times/on times, changes in symptoms, sleep patterns, etc. If you aren’t sure write it down. A journal differs from a checklist because it provides a broader analysis of your overall condition and potential insight to your doctor in recommending treatment. A journal may seem archaic in the latest digital age in which we live but it is still a valuable tool to use. If you incorporate a “Fitbit”, “Apple Watch”, or other wearable device it should complement your journal entries.
Tip #3: Ask for a medication review
Periodically, I will ask for a medication review. This is an assessment of the current medications that I’m taking to be sure that they aren’t interacting and providing maximum benefit. I know some people with PD that take so many medications, you could fill a shoe box with them. Prescription drugs are an important part of Parkinson’s treatment for some people and sometimes the side effects are worse than the positive benefit of the drug. I acknowledge that for others, nutrition and exercise are equally if not more important. My point being, if you are taking a multitude of prescription drugs, get a regular medication checkup. Hence the above mentioned checklist.
Tip #4: Have an accountability partner attend your appointment
This role is usually filled by your care partner but can be anyone you are comfortable with holding accountable you, the doctor, nurses/P.A. and anyone else associated with your care to bring up pertinent information and/or questions. That is why I encourage you to write them down. If it’s important enough to remember, write it down! This is essential information that can be useful to those on your medical team of which you should be the star, everybody else revolves around you. Care instructions (physical therapy, medication changes, follow ups, etc.) are not always written down for you. An accountability partner can remind you what the doctor said.
Tip #5: Volunteer for clinical trials
Discuss other options to treatment, such as if participating in clinical trials would benefit you. There are research studies involving new drug therapies for PD, cough and swallow studies, utilization of stem cell therapy and more. Your participation in clinical trials although voluntary, sometimes compensated is important to the scientific communities looking for better quality of life and ultimately for a cure. Have a conversation with your doctor about clinical trials in your area. Your participation is important and many times compliments your ongoing treatment.
There are a variety of ways to make the most of your appointment; these are just a few. The visit with your doctor can be productive experience or another day at the doctor’s office. It is your choice. Make the most of every visit by preparing in advance by making sure your list of medications is up to date, bring your journal and checklist, always ask your care partner to take notes and do discuss clinical trials in your area. By employing these tips and more at your doctor’s appointments will produce productive results and further development the doctor-patient relationship.